` Half of 26 Olive Oils Tested 'Defective' in Germany

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Half of 26 Olive Oils Tested 'Defective' in Germany

Feb. 1, 2016
By Diet Simon

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Ger­man con­sumers and sell­ers of olive oil have been shocked ever since an inde­pen­dent and highly regarded con­sumer pro­tec­tion orga­ni­za­tion, Stiftung War­entest (SW), had a panel of expert tasters scru­ti­nize 26 vari­eties of extra vir­gin” and found half of them want­ing. But not so badly as to be dan­ger­ous to health, they main­tained, though some con­tained pes­ti­cides and other car­cino­genic impu­ri­ties.

The results of the test were pub­lished in the Feb­ru­ary edi­tion of Stiftung Warentest’s mag­a­zine, Test, and received exten­sive print, broad­cast and online pub­lic­ity across Ger­many.

Olive oil at the moment has an image prob­lem. That’s unfor­tu­nate because it’s actu­ally a very healthy and tasty food.- Silke Schwartau, Ham­burg con­sumer cen­ter

The testers worked accord­ing to EU reg­u­la­tion No. 2568/91 on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of olive oil and olive-residue oil and on the rel­e­vant meth­ods of analy­sis.” Among other things, those rules state: Where it is found that an oil does not cor­re­spond to its cat­e­gory descrip­tion, the Mem­ber State shall, with­out prej­u­dice to any other penal­ties, apply effec­tive, pro­por­tion­ate and dis­sua­sive penal­ties to be deter­mined in the light of the seri­ous­ness of the irreg­u­lar­ity detected.”

Ger­mans have taken to olive oil, regard­ing it as healthy and import­ing most of what they con­sume from Italy and Spain. Only one tested oil was rated good’: O‑Med Picual extra vir­gin olive oil from Spain, cost­ing €40 ($43.58) per liter and avail­able only from spe­cialty retail­ers and online. Four out of six organic oils were marked defi­cient.”

The EU rules for the extra vir­gin grade require the taste and aroma must be flaw­less and there needs to be a min­i­mum level of fruiti­ness. The rules set max­i­mum lev­els of chem­i­cal residues and pre­cise lan­guage, cat­e­gory and ori­gin infor­ma­tion on labels. The test results showed there’s no rely­ing on any of that.

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Thir­teen of the 26 sam­ples failed the extra vir­gin cri­te­ria. Five from Por­tu­gal and Greece were highly pol­luted with min­eral oil hydro­car­bons, pos­si­bly trace­able to motor fumes, tech­ni­cal oils and pure paraf­fin (the EU allows paraf­fin as a plant pro­tec­tant, includ­ing in organic farm­ing). The testers also found plas­ti­ciz­ers, pes­ti­cides (in 20 of the sam­ples), poly­cyclic aro­matic hydro­car­bons and styrene.

The Berlin-based Food­watch orga­ni­za­tion demanded that pro­duc­ers and sell­ers take the olive oils pol­luted with min­eral oil off the mar­ket and stop sales imme­di­ately. The tainted oils are a seri­ous health risk, Food­watch argued, demand­ing law­mak­ing action. Given the many proven instances of dan­ger­ous min­eral oil in foods the fed­eral gov­ern­ment must explain why it still refuses to take action to pro­tect con­sumers. Obvi­ously, the food indus­try hasn’t got a grip on the prob­lem. There has to be zero tol­er­ance for the espe­cially crit­i­cal aro­matic min­eral oils.”

Stiftung War­entest lab­o­ra­tory analy­ses found the ori­gins of five oils falsely declared: four wrongly nam­ing Italy as the source coun­try, one Spain. Seven oils didn’t meet fla­vor stan­dards, tast­ing moldy, pricked, ran­cid and even worm-eaten. Four oils cost­ing from €14.20 to €20 per liter were rated sat­is­fac­tory.” The cheap­est oil tested cost €5.35.

Olive oil is prob­a­bly the most fre­quently manip­u­lated agri­cul­tural prod­uct, com­mented Silke Schwartau, nutri­tion expert at the Ham­burg con­sumer cen­ter. It’s almost impos­si­ble for con­sumers to know what’s in the bot­tle, she said. Olive oil at the moment has an image prob­lem. That’s unfor­tu­nate because it’s actu­ally a very healthy and tasty food.”

The Stiftung War­entest exam­in­ers don’t want peo­ple to com­pletely eschew olive oil, either. Bet­ter super­vi­sion and tighter con­trols would help, said Schwartau.

Due to its estab­lished rep­u­ta­tion as an inde­pen­dent and reli­able orga­ni­za­tion, the foun­da­tion has a con­sid­er­able influ­ence on the buy­ing behav­ior of con­sumers. Good rat­ings and ver­dicts are often given great promi­nence in prod­uct adver­tis­ing and on prod­uct pack­ag­ing.

In con­trast, bad rat­ings and ver­dicts fre­quently lead to a decline in sales and thus some­times legal action against SW by the man­u­fac­tur­ers. Accord­ing to SW, they are sued, on aver­age, ten times each year. The foun­da­tion has never actu­ally been ordered by the courts to pay com­pen­sa­tion and usu­ally wins legal actions taken against it.

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